Scholarly Disagreement


Translated by Ustadh Arsalan Haque

A Declaration by al-Majma` al-Fiqhi, Mecca
Annual Convention

Background

All praises are due to Allah alone.  Peace and blessings be on the one after whom there will be no prophet – our master and prophet, Muhammad, may God bless him, his family, and his companions and grant them peace.

To proceed, the Majlis al-Majma` al-Fiqhi al-Islami [Assembly of Islamic Jurisprudence] analyzed the following issues during its 10th annual convention, held in the honorable city of Mecca, from Saturday, 24th of Safar, 1408 A.H., 17th of October, 1987 C.E. until Wednesday, 28th of Safar, 1408 A.H., 21st of October, 1987 C.E.:

-          differences in opinion amongst the orthodox schools of jurisprudence; and
-          extreme and hateful fanaticism shown by some of the followers of these schools, which often leads to the vilification of other schools and their scholars.

Furthermore, the Assembly examined the problem found in the minds of many people today, whose perceptions regarding these differences are based on ignorance of their foundations and meaning.  As a result, the misguiding forces cast doubt in their hearts by whispering to them, “Why should we have these differences among the schools when there is one body of Islamic Law and one set of principles extracted from the Glorious Qur’an and the established Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet ﷺ?  Why not unite them into one so that Muslims have a single school of thought and a uniform understanding with regards to all legal rulings?”

The Assembly also examined the issue of fanaticism based in the juristic schools and the problems that arise with it, especially among the followers of new, contemporary trends, whose proponents call towards a new brand of ijtihad (scholarly interpretation) and vilify the established schools that have been widely accepted by the Muslim community from the earliest Islamic era.  They wrongfully vilify all, or some, of their imams (leaders) and create discord between people.

After discussing this issue, along with its surrounding facts, circumstances, and consequences (such as misguidance and communal discord), the Assembly has decided to release the following statement to warn and instruct both the misguiding forces and the fanatics.

Declaration

First, with regards to difference among scholars –

Scholarly differences that are found in the Muslim world are of two types:

  1. theological differences; and
  2. juristic differences.

The first type is, in fact, a calamity that has led to numerous disasters in the Muslim world.  It has split the ranks of Muslims and created discord between them, which is terribly unfortunate.  These theological differences must not exist.  Instead, the Muslim community must unite upon the theology of Ahl as-sunnah wa al-jama`ah (people of the tradition of Muhmmad ﷺ and the community), which represents the pure and sound Islamic thought that existed at the time of the God’s Messenger ﷺ and the Rightly Guided Caliphate, which was declared by the Prophet ﷺ to be an extension of his own Sunnah, for he said, “I command you to adhere to my sunnah, and the sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs after me.  Hold fast to it and grab it with your molar teeth.”

The second type, which consists of those differences that exist among the juristic schools over some issues, is caused by academic reasons, and there is great divine wisdom behind their existence. These differences are a form of God’s mercy for His servants, and they serve to expand the methods by which rulings may be derived from the sacred texts.  Furthermore, these differences are a blessing and a juristic treasure, providing room for the Muslim community in its religious and legal affairs such that it is not restricted to a single opinion when faced with a particular legal issue without any alternatives.  Instead, if at any time or for any issue, the opinion of a particular imam becomes difficult for the Muslim community to follow, it is able to find relief, leniency, and ease in another opinion, according to (its own) legal evidences.  There is no difference in this regard between matters of worship, commerce, family, justice, or crime.

This second type of difference in opinion, i.e. juristic differences, does not represent a deficiency in our religion, nor does it diminish anything from it.  These differences are inevitable!  In fact, there is not a single community that has a complete legal system based on fiqh (jurisprudence) and ijtihad that is free from juristic and scholarly disagreements.

In reality, this type of difference in opinion is inevitable because the sacred texts are often open to more than one interpretation.  Additionally, it is impossible for the sacred texts to be inclusive of all possible situations.  The reason for this, as indicated by some scholars (may God have mercy on them), is that the sacred texts are finite in their quantity, while there is no limit to the types of situations (that may occur).  Therefore, it becomes inevitable (for the jurist) to resort to qiyas (analogical reasoning) and to analyze the operative causes behind various rulings, the intent of the Lawgiver, and the general objectives of Islamic Law, and then to apply them to new cases and situations.  This is where differences arise, due to the understanding of scholars, and what they see preponderant among various possibilities.  As a result, they reach different conclusions regarding the same issue.  All of them seek and aim for the truth, but the one who reaches the right conclusion gets two rewards (from God), while the one who is mistaken gets a single reward.  This is what creates room and removes hardship!

What is deficient about the existence of such scholarly differences, whose virtue and mercy we have clarified?  In fact, they are a blessing and a mercy from God for his faithful servants.  At the same time, they constitute a tremendous juristic treasure, so unique that it behooves the Muslim community to be proud of it.  Yet, the misguiding forces in foreign countries take advantage of the ignorance of some young Muslims, especially those who are studying there.  They distort the image of this juristic disagreement as if it was theological disagreement, thereby claiming that there is inconsistency within Islamic Law.  They fail to realize the difference between the two types of disagreements.  Indeed, there is a huge difference between the two!

Secondly, regarding those who call for a moratorium of the juristic schools of thought, wishing to convert everyone to their new brand of ijtihad, and vilifying all, or some, of the existing juristic schools and their imams – the foregoing discussion regarding the virtues of these juristic schools and their imams should be sufficient for them to restrain themselves from this hateful methodology that they pursue as a means to misguide people, disunite them, and split their ranks.  In these times, when we are faced with incredible challenges from the enemies of Islam, we are in dire need for unity among our ranks, not this divisive call.

May God bless our master Muhammad, his family, and his companions, and grant them abundant peace.  All praises are due to God, the Lord of the worlds.

Signatories:

President:
Abdul Aziz b. Abdullah b. Baz

Vice President:
Dr. Abdullah Umar Nasif

Members:
Abdullah b. Abdul Rahman al-Bassam
Dr. Bakr Abdullah Abu Zayd
Muhammad b. Jubayr
Mustafa Ahmad al-Zarqa
Muhammad b. Abdullah b. Sabbil
Salih b. Fawzan al-Fawzan
Muhammad Rashid Raghib Qabbani
Abu al-Hasan al-Nadwi
Muhammad Mahmud al-Sawwaf
Dr. Ahmad Fahm Abu Sunnah
Abu Bakr Jawmi
Muhammad al-Shadhili al-Nayfar
Muhammad Salim b. Abdul Wadud
Muhammad al-Habib b. al-Khawja

Correspondant:
Dr. Talal Umar Bafaqih

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8 Comments

  1. Leo says:

    I don’t see how differences can be a mercy. I would have thought to not have any differences would be a mercy. It would prevent people wasting time from arguing, prevent them from falling into sin by slandering and speaking ill of other schools of thought. Partisanship has split this ummah.

    • Saifullah says:

      Assalamu Alaikum Leo,
      This is a great question which many people generally ask. I will explain your question and InshaAllah you will be pleased with my answer.

      Imam al-Hafiz al-Suyuti says in his short treatise Jazil al-mawahib fi ikhtilaf al-madhahib (The abundant grants concerning the differences among the schools):

      The hadith “Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy for people” has many benefits among which are the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) foretold of the differences that would arise after his time among the madhahib in the branches of the law, and this is one of his miracles because it is a foretelling of things unseen.
      Another benefit is his approval of these differences and his confirmation of them because he characterizes them as a mercy.
      Another benefit is that the legally responsible person can choose to follow whichever he likes among them.

      ….and indeed Allah has made the Deen easy for us to follow. Glory be to Allah, He is the Lord of Mercy.

  2. Norma Tarazi says:

    Asalaam alaikum,

    This is nice. I’ve known this information for years. Don’t understand why they had to have a conference now to state the obvious. The real question is what can we do about extremism and ignorance in our communities? Can’t these people get proactive?

    • Abdul Sattar says:

      salam Sr. Norma,

      You might be aware of this, but as it is clearly visible from the state of the Muslims, most Muslims are not. Clearly, this is directed to those who may not have understood the importance of this point.

      Secondly, who exactly are “these people” and what do you expect them to do? They are mostly acadamians, teachers, and scholars, and are working in their environment with the tools at their disposal. I think the more important questions is – what have we – the people on the ground, in the communities done to help? How have you and I actualized this to bring benefit to people?

      Once, a man yelled at one of the scholars in Egypt saying: “You have preaching and teaching and talking for 20 YEARS and NOTHING has changed! What use is your speaking?”

      The scholar responsed: “You are right – nothing has changed….because you have been listening for 20 years, and you have done nothing.”

      wa salaam
      Abdul Sattar

  3. Mohammad says:

    Jazak Allah Khayr for the excellent reminder. It is as relevant today as it was when it first came out. We we all know how rampant the fanaticism w.r.t. following a juristic school/madhab is amongst Muslims – we have seen some instances of it through the comments of this blog itself. All of the fanaticism is driven by ignorance obviously, which ends up diving Muslims amongst themselves. Keep up the good work of shedding light on important issues like this.

  4. Adam says:

    The date is 1987, by the way, some of the scholars on the list passed away years ago- so it didn’t happen recently!

  5. Abdullah says:

    There were so many doubts arising in my mind regarding this issue. Alhamdulillah, it is clear now. Jazakallahu Khaira for this excellent piece. May Allah unite the hearts of all Muslims.

  6. Kwame Madden says:

    Alhamdulillah,this is must needed post I’m glad to see this group of scholars tackling this issues.Fiqh is very broad subject as well many of Islamic sciences.This mentality of this the only answer or only way is very dishearting.The malaise of discord onlyleads to more disunity amongst muslims.May Allah reward for this post.

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